As I pack away the kids’ Halloween costumes and secretly munch on the leftover candy, it dawns on me: It’s nearly time for the goofy Elf on the Shelf to make his often messy, sometimes naughty appearance in our home.
It’s up to my husband to dig him out of his super secret hiding spot in the garage attic, but I’m already plotting all the Pinterest-worthy scenarios that Elf will find himself in this year.
Let me be clear: I didn’t always think Elf was cool or even a remotely good idea. At first, I thought it was a silly ploy to just get kids hooked on the next thing parents had to buy. Maybe it is. But I don’t care. I realized that the Elf stood for a lot more than just another holiday purchase.
The beauty of the Elf was that he was instilling the sense of tradition and offering an opportunity for many families to bond over something during the holidays. Where was your elf this morning? He did what??! I can just hear all those cute little conversations between little kids.
The parents also get to “bond”: I woke up at 3 a.m. and realized I still had to move the damn elf! Uhh….
Beyond just the routine of moving the elf and watching your kids delight in finding him each morning, kids need an Elf. Okay, maybe they don’t need an Elf per se, but they need traditions. Why? Because science says so. Studies show that happy families keep traditions and rituals.
Why do traditions help families maintain happiness?
Traditions are constant and reliable
Kids thrive with routine. In fact, the structures we model for kids can help their brains function better.
Dr. Karen Spangenberg Postal, a board certified neuropsychologist, argues that by demonstrating routines, “[the children] can learn more effectively. External structures can assist a child’s brain to learn more efficiently, as if they possessed a more mature frontal system.”
Of course, this statement is in response to routines, like bed time or learning how to pack a bag for school. But the point is that kids depend on reliable structures in their lives.
Traditions are another way for something to be constant and reliable. There are so many elements in a child’s life that are not constant. Life is fast-paced and schedules easily become overloaded. Traditions – whatever yours may be – gives kids a chance to slow down and savor the beauty of something they can depend on.
Traditions keep us rooted in family values
How often do families get separated during the day? Far too much. Parents head off to work while kids busy themselves at school. After school, schedules can really get hectic: practice, rehearsals, doctor appointments, play dates, trips to the grocery store. It’s a wonder the modern family has any time to actually spend together.
All of that schedule overload can be harmful to kids’ health. Traditions force us away from the extracurriculars to focus on what matters: family. Traditions force us to set us aside distractions and less important activities.
Traditions are an investment in mental health
Thinking back to my own childhood, Christmas traditions were the some of the best memories of growing up. Think of family traditions as making positive deposits in the memory banks of your kids.
Traditions aren’t just pleasant events. Experts agree that creating positive memories makes it more likely kids will grow into healthier, happier individuals who develop an increased ability to get along with people.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter if your tradition is the Elf on the Shelf, eating cake for breakfast on Christmas morning, or watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” while wearing new Christmas jammies. The point of it all is that your family is there – together – basking in the warm and cozy moments of life.